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an inferior minister of providence, he cheers, invi. gorates, and sustains the surrounding world.
If confined to private life, the sphere of his activity is narrower; but his influence is all benign and gentle. If exalted into a higher station, mankind and posterity reap the fruit of his labours.
As these topics of praise never fail to be employed, and with success, where we would inspireesteem for any one; may it not thence be concluded, that the UTI. LITY, resulting from the social virtues, forms, at least, a part of their merit, and is one source of that approbation and regard so universally paid to them?
When we recommend even an animal or a plant as useful and beneficial, we give it an applause and recommendation suited to its nature.
As, on the other hand, reflection on the baneful influence of any of these inferior beings always inspires us with the sentiment of aversion. The eye is pleased with the prospect of corn-fields and loaded vineyards; horses grazing, and flocks pafturing: But flies the view of briar and brambles, affording shelter to wolves and serpents.
A machine, a piece of furniture, a vestment, a house well contrived for use and conveniency, is so far beautiful, and is contemplated with pleasure and approbation. An experienced eye is here sensible to many excellencies, which escape persons ignorant and uninstructed.
Can any thing stronger be said in praise of a profession, such as merchandize or manufacture, than to observe the advantages which it procures to fociety? And is not a monk and inquisitor enraged when we treat his order as useless or pernicious to mankind?
The historian exults in displaying the benefit arising from his labours, The writer of romance al
leviates or denies the bad consequences ascribed to his manner of compofition.
In general, what praise is implied in the simple epithet useful! What reproach in the contrary!
Your Gods, says CICERO*, in opposition to the EPICUREANS, cannot justly claim any worship ar adoration, with whatever imaginary perfections you may suppose them endowed. They are totally useless and unactive. Even the EGYPTIANS, whom you so much ridicule, never consecrated any animal but on account of its utility.
The sceptics assert t, though absurdly, that the origin of all religious worship was derived from the utility of inanimate objects, as the sun and moon, to the support and well-being of mankind. This is also the common reason assigned by historians for the deification of eminent heroes and legislators f.
To plant a tree, to cultivate a field, to beget children; meritorious acts, according to the religion of ZOROASTER.
In all determinations of morality, this circumstance of public utility is ever principally in view; and wherever disputes arise, either in philosophy or common life, concerning the bounds of duty, the question cannot, by any means, be decided with greater certainty, than by ascertaining, on any side, the true interests of mankind. If any false opinion, embraced from appearances, has been found to prevail; as soon as farther experience and founder reasoning have given us juster notions of human affairs, we retract our first sentiment, and adjust anew the boundaries of moral good and evil.
Giving alms to common beggars is naturally praised; because it seems to carry relief to the distressed and indigent: But when we observe the encouragement thence arising to idleness and debauchery, we re
gard * De Nat. Deor. lib. i. + Sext. Emp, adversus Math, lib. viji, Diod. Sic. paflim.
gard that species of charity rather as a weakness than a virtue.
Tyrannicide, or the assassination of ufurpers and oppressive princes, was highly extolled in ancient times; because it both freed mankind from many of these monsters, and seemed to keep the others in awe, whom the sword or poinard could not reach. But history and experience having since convinced us, that this practice encreases the jealousy and cruelty of princes, a TIMOLEON and a BRUTUS, though treated with indulgence on account of the prejudices of their times, are now considered as very improper models for imitation.
Liberality in princes is regarded as a mark of beneficence: But when it occurs, that the homely bread of the honest and industrious is often thereby converted into delicious cates for the idle and the prodigal, we soon retract our heedless praises. The regrets of a prince, for having loft a day, were noble and generous: But had he intended to have spent it in acts of generosity to his greedy courtiers, it was better lost than mifemployed after that manner.
Luxury, or a refinement on the pleasures and conveniences of life, had long been supposed the source of every corruption in government, and the immediate cause of faction, sedition, civil wars, and the total loss of liberty. It was, therefore, universally regarded as a vice, and was an object of declamation to all satirists and severe moralists. Those who prove, or attempt to prove, that such refinements rather tend to the increase of industry, civility, and arts, regulate anew our moral as well as political sentiments, and represent, as laudable or innocent, what had formerly been regarded as pernicious and blameable.
Upon the whole, then, it seems undeniable, that nothing can bestow more merit on any human creature than the sentiment of benevolence in an eminent degree; and that a part, at least, of its merit arises
from its tendency to promote the interests of our species, and bestow happiness on human society. We carry our view into the falutary confequences of such a character and disposition; and whatever has so benign an influence, and forwards fo desirable an end, is beheld with complacency and pleasure. The social virtues are never regarded without their benefi. cial tendencies, nor viewed as barren and unfruitful.
The happiness of mankind, the order of society, the harmony of families, the mutual support of friends, are always considered as the result of their gentle do. minion over the breasts of men.
How considerable a part of their merit we ought to ascribe to their utility, will better appear from future disquisitions *; as well as the reason why this. circumstance has such a command over our esteem and approbationt.
SEÇ TI O N III.
THAT JUSTICE is useful to society, and confe.
quently, that part of its merit, at least, mustarife from that consideration, it would be a superfluous undertaking to prove. That public utility is the fole origin of justice, and that reflections on the beneficial consequences of this viriue are the fole foundation of its merit; this proposition, being more cu
rious * Sect 3d and 4th.
rious and important, will better deserve our examination and enquiry.
Let us suppose, that nature has bestowed on the human race such profuse abundance of all external conveniences, that, without any uncertainty in the event, without any care or industry on our part, every individual finds himself fully provided with whatever his most voracious appetites can want, or luxurious imagination wish or desire. His natural beauty, we shall suppose, surpasses all acquired ornaments : The perpetual clemency of the seasons renders useless all cloaths or covering: The raw herbage affords him the most delicious fare ; the clear fountain, the richest beverage. No laborious occupation required: No tillage: No navigation. Music, poetry, and contemplation form his sole business : Conversation, mirth, and friendship his fole amusement.
It seems evident, that, in such a happy state, every other social virtue would flourish, and receive tenfold encrease; but the cautious, jealous virtue of justice would never once have been dreamed of. For what purpose make a partition of goods, where every one has already more than enough? Why give rise to property, where there cannot possibly be any injury? Why call this object mine, when upon the seizing of it by another, I need but stretch out my hand to pofsess myself of what is equally valuable ? Justice, in that case, being totally USELESS, would be an idle ceremonial, and could never possibly have place in the catalogue of virtues.
We see, even in the present necessitous condition of mankind, that, wherever any benefit is bestowed by nature in an unlimited abundance, we leave it always in common among the whole human race, and make no fubdivisions of right and property. Water and air, though the most necessary of all objects, are not challenged as the property of individuals; nor can any man commit injustice by the most lavish use